May 19, 2015

six months

Nine years ago my still-teenage self was bumping down a country road in a friend's Jeep. She was telling me about a good friend's failing marriage. As we bounced along, she explained how it was difficult for her to fathom the devastation of divorce, because in her marriage, "every year gets better." I knew she had a joyful marriage, one that set a bar for me, reminding me that it was possible to be truly be best friends with the one you married. I knew her marriage was, as she always says, "rooted and built up in Him". But that "every year gets better" phrase never left me, because I did not understand. Every year, better? How so? 

I heard the same thing from a wise woman in more recent years, who told me of early conjugal struggles, and her mother's advice to wait it out because "it only gets better". She told me how it proved true in her marriage, that indeed, it was better now than before. I heard, but I still did not understand.

I have often seen how when my friends are dating, engaged or newly married, their lives receive a lot of attention, on social media or otherwise. But around the time of the birth of the second baby, the fanfare dies down and life settles into more ordinary things. Marriage days are punctuated by less-than-romantic trips to the laundromat because there is no clean underwear, or another late night cleaning up and taking out a stinky bag of garbage after guests leave. Then maybe babies, with their strict schedules, spit up and strong lungs. The glamorous Photoshopped wedding and honeymoon photos in exotic destinations eventually are replaced by grainy camera phone photos that show gained weight and receding hairlines. I wanted to believe my friends, but I still wondered, how does it get better as time goes by? The beginning is what looks so fun.

A picture from the day before our wedding.

Six months into my own marriage, I am starting to understand. Our wedding was memorable, and our honeymoon was fun, but can I admit something really boring? As far as our marriage goes, I like this week or last week better than I liked my honeymoon in the mountains. That's because, as I was told, each month, our marriage truly gets richer, deeper and better.

Marriage keeps getting better, because the longer we live this covenant, the more...

...days I've seen my husband's faithfulness in going to work, fighting the thorns and thistles of his particular job, providing for us. 
...times he has patiently wiped up my splashes around our small European kitchen sink and put on his rubber clogs to walk through the kitchen, rather than padding around in wet socks. 
...he has quietly brought a cup of water to my bedside, jumped out of bed to shut the window at night, or sorted (step one) and washed (step two) a pile of sticky supper dishes. 
...meals he's accepted with thanksgiving, not complaining about the meals he doesn't like (pasta with blue cheese sauce and toasted walnuts will never again be on our menu) and the more he's praised the meals he did like (thank God we both like Asian and TexMex).  
...he has graciously listened to my rambling thoughts, and contributed his insight (which is why he doesn't need to read this blog post, because he's heard the rough audio version!) 
...comfortable and safe we feel together, and the more good memories we've made together.
...prayers we've prayed together, the more Scripture we've read together, the more people we've served together. 

Marriage keeps getting better, because the longer we live together, the longer we've loved one another, the more we've forgiven one another, and the better we know and understand each other. Knowing that my husband has promised to live with me in this way until death do us part, gives me the security and serenity that allows our relationship to build on this history together, and grow better. We are learning better how to please each other, and how to build each other up.

But most importantly, the fact that our lives are not centred around devotion to "us", but around devotion to the One who made with us a better covenant, better promises...this allows us to always move toward better, the longer we are married. When we are concentrated on bettering our relationship with God, our marriage is automatically bettered as well.

My husband works in a profession that is technical and mostly male-dominated. When he announced his upcoming wedding at work, there was little conversation about it. If anything, he was told that marriage was not necessary in order to live with a woman. But in contrast, the few women in his office took up the typical feminine role of gushing about our snowy wedding photos and organizing a wedding gift when he returned to work after our honeymoon. One of the ladies asks him occasionally how I'm doing, if I'm settling in well to European life and learning the language, or if married life is OK. Recently she asked my husband if marriage is what he expected it to be.

He smiled when he told me how he responded.
"No, it's not," he told her. "It's better."

And that's why we didn't just count down to our wedding, now we now count up. This week we've been married for 181 days, or six months. I was correctly informed, and now I'm beginning to comprehend, how a God-centered marriage only gets better. 

This same principle applies to any godly, committed relationships in which we find ourselves. Have you noticed that the people who are commonly found criticizing their family, friends or local fellowships are generally the ones who are investing the least in those relationships? The ones who constantly complain about the church leadership or their mother's attitude are not usually the ones scrubbing toilets, forgiving offences, offering others the more prominent positions, quietly slipping off to start on the dishes, sacrificing their Saturday morning sleep-ins for another's good, lingering after the service to encourage a hurting person, or praying together.... They can't experience the joys of a covenant life that keeps getting better, building on shared history, growth and goals, because they aren't living the covenant. The wonder is this, that the God of the better covenant enables us to live our earthly covenants in a way that gets better the longer we live them.

But now Je'sus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.
—the writer to the Hebrews 

Two are better than one, 
because they have a good reward for their labor.

May 06, 2015

sin the bud

[I started writing this post a few weeks ago - on a beautiful spring day].
Spring came overnight this year. When I crossed the city centre today, the trees that were yesterday brown skeletons were suddenly fluttering clouds of fresh green leaves. The grass on the corner near the grocery store caught my attentiontall and bushy, sporting a few dandelions, already needing a trim. A bird sung merrily from somewhere above me, and another outside our window. The city is bright, with pink blossoms festooning the trees and colourful flowers in all the planters.

Spring is beautiful here!

I tried to remember if it had been a few days since I had ventured out of our apartment, since some days I have no need to go out, and if that was why the coming of spring seemed so sudden to me. But no, I realized I had been outside yesterday...the wind was cooler, the trees more spindly, the birds subdued. Today really seemed like the first day of spring.

But in actuality, for weeks I'd been watching spring miraculously bring to life a cloudy, cold Europe. The sunshine has been lasting slightly longer each day, the bushes showing small blossoms, and knobby green buds had been coming out of hiding, on tree branches. What had actually been coming for a long time seemed to burst into my sight suddenly, and I almost forgot all the other signs of spring I had seen, compared to this.

Around the time of our wedding, we received various exhortations about marriage, some public and some private. We made mental notes (as much as we could, in the fog of engagement, wedding and early marriage). One of our advice-givers gave us a visual aid to remember his words, two blocks of wood glued together with our names scrawled on them with a Sharpie. The giver is a woodworker and the idea was clear, that God has glued us together, for good. My husband put the unsightly block on his bedside table as a reminder of the exhortation to cleave to one another.

That advice rings hollow now. Not the truth of cleaving, but the voice of the one who gave it to us. In recent months he admitted to adultery. He didn't use that difficult word in particular, but he told us about the child who came from the adulterous relationship, and she is now elementary-aged. Everyone was extremely disappointed by this sudden revelation and, judging by his crimson face, he was disappointed too, at least in being exposed. After all, in public he was doling out marriage and godly living advice and in private, doing the exact opposite.

At first it seemed like a sudden explosion of information, blindsiding his friends, family and acquaintances. But after a pause, a few people quietly admitted that they were both surprised and unsurprised by the news. No, most had not imagined the nature of his sin, the details of it. But it was like me, when I stopped to think about the signs of springthey suddenly remembered this incident and that conversation and realized that they shouldn't have been so surprised at this news. They had hints that something was wrong, even ten years ago.

The longer I live, the more stories I hear of believers who have become disqualified. It has happened to me several times lately, that I have read a book about a person or an organization that did its work in the name of God, but a quick Google search revealed a later ungodly inconsistency. There are teachers whose lectures were shared at our youth groups who now openly condone the redefinition of marriage. There's the popular preacher who lied to get his books to the top of bestseller lists. We've probably all experienced these kinds of disappointments with people we know personally or people we trusted from a distance.

Two concerns enter my mind when I hear these things:
[1] fear that I would be the one to fall away, and disappoint God and others, and
[2] fear that I or my loved ones would be hurt or deceived by such a one.
(And if I my fear of [2] is greater than my fear of [1], then I am greatly in danger of [1], if you know what I mean.)

But both fears need to be replaced by the fear of God, which is the only real protection against sin. We can build systems of rules and protective devices for ourselves, but ultimately "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." Through wisdom, we can learn to recognize what kind of tree we are, by the leaves, buds, blossoms or finally, the fruits we produce. "By their fruit you shall know them," and by wisdom we learn to recognize what's growing in our orchard.

Fear of God grows through regular exposure to the Scriptures... "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." "I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path." "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Seeing the public failings of others, and knowing my own more private failings, has made me more desperate for the Word. I'm seeking to press into it more faithfully, to value it more highly, to hide it in my heart, to post it on our walls, to bookend my days with it...that I might not sin against Him.  

We all have sins we take less seriously than others, perhaps gluttony, gossip, complaining, pride, lack of submission to authority.... But today's "small" sins are tomorrow's "big" sins. Rosaria Butterfield insightfully teaches that the root of sin behind hom0sexuality is pride. Rosaria's message is that if we harbour pride, who are we to say that one day we will not harbour hom0sexuality? Wisdom lets us recognize and uproot sin in its seed form, long before it is full grown.

Not only does a focus on the Word keep us from sin in our own lives, but it guides us toward wise people and away from foolish ones. It is not the will of God that we be hurt or deceived by teachers whose lives are inconsistent with their words, and if we are growing in maturity and walking in holiness, I believe He gives us discernment and often gives us warnings far before the "sudden explosions". I can hardly think of a case in my own life where a friend or a leader's life or doctrine did not raise some small- or medium-sized concerns in my mind, before a big revelation came. It is through His Word's wisdom that we become mature, and as Hebrews says, able to "discern both good and evil." We don't have to be surprised by the fruit if we learn to recognize the seed, the bud, the blossom....

My husband's cleared his bedside stand of that superglued wooden block. He may have disposed of it, and I don't mind; it was ugly in the first place, and now it holds an ugly memory. As I select pictures for the albums from our wedding season, part of me wants keep the album devoid of the memory of his mismatched life and doctrine by removing his picture. But on second thought, I want to keep him in the album, as a solemn reminder to "watch [our] life and our doctrine closely". Spring doesn't come overnight. Neither does adultery. Let this spring remind us not to be surprised or overcome by sin, but to nip sin in the bud, through the fear of the Lord.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul to the Corinthians 

April 28, 2015

a different spirit altogether

After a few sunny spring days, Europe is back to its grey rain today. I'm eating a soft, salty brezel and warming my fingers around a mug of tea. Our flat is chilly and I'm trying to set my mind to my work. I'm distracted, however, when I look out at the neighbours' rooftop porch, where they spend most every sunny evening. For the first time, I notice a small statue tucked amongst their deck decor: a sleek, serene Buddha. The cool drizzle falls on Buddha, and I think, Europe is grey in more ways than one.

My thoughts turn to an incident a few weeks ago, when I was buying discounted tea lights at a gift store. A shopper (not my neighbour) approached the cashier with a huge, heavy Buddha in her arms. She heaved him onto the countertop, where the cashier proceed to wrap this master of enlightenment in enough padding that he not suffer damage on the way to his new home. As I watched the lady clinging to this expensive black stone god, I couldn't help but notice the irony of her situation. Here she stood, in a land freed by Luther's Reformation, using her hard-won freedom to choose...the bondage of Buddha. Here she stood, with her back to one of the biggest chruches in our city, embracing an Eastern elixir for her Western want.

And I thoughtbut isn't that the West today? Freed by the Scriptures, only to go back to the ideas that enslaved us prior? (The very terms we use to talk about Western history allude to this misunderstanding of history—the "Dark Ages" had more Light than secular historians would have us think, and "The Enlightenment" was not as bright as it sounds.) Back turned to the Truth the Word had to offer, the West is flaunting its freedom to choose falsehood.

After my first visit to the East, I saw buzzwords used in the West, like guru and yoga, differently. After living in the East, now I see a pooja invitation for what it really is. I see the heart of the West enamored with ideas pouring from the East. Like Eve, seeking something appealing to her body, her eyes, her mind, trusting her feelings more than His Word. Like Eve, swallowing the snake god's teachings undiscerningly. Like Eve, wed to husbands who stand idly by with no wisdom or insight to correct their gullible wives when they embrace Buddha and bring him onto their porches and into their homes. 
South Asian posters of various gods
Of course, the irony is, that in the East there is also an infatuation with the West. It can be as mild as an interest in burgers or big brands, or as dangerous as a fascination with the Western gods of order, peace, health and prosperity. The West we know today was built on principles like honest pay for honest work, the equality of all men and women in God's eyes, and other Truths  which have led to the achievements of the "developed world". The West draws many Easterners as well, though perhaps for different reasons.

The West is full of the East, now,  and the East full of the West. Times are changing and our paradigms are merging. Our worldviews are inevitably meshing, as our children are raised with cultural pluralism, in its best and worst forms. At its best, this multiculturalism teaches our children firsthand that all were truly created from one blood and really have only one need. But at its worst, our children are taught lies and a dangerous tolerance, that is, the tolerance of false ideas in the name of unity.

I recently discovered Caryl Matrisciana, who was raised as a Catholic Britisher in India, and as a young adult became almost accidentally entwined in Eastern mysticism through hippie music and culture in England in the sixties. After coming into a living relationship with Chr!st in her twenties, she made it her life's work to warn the chruch about New Age ideas, about how dangerous Eastern philosophies were creeping into the West under new names, something she sees so clearly because of her exposure both to East and West.

Caryl speaks of "New Age" teaching, but have you noticed that the very term "New Age" is rarely heard anymore? The pluralism and mysticism of Eastern thinking has become so much a part of Western thinking that most don't even recognize it for what it is. No longer are those lies only embraced by people "with their back to the chruch", but also by those inside the chruch. For example, recently I came across a book that at first appearance seemed Chr!stian, with Scripture quotes throughout. But upon closer inspection, I noted that the author was teaching women to find strength in their inner goddesses and be their own light...concepts completely foreign to the Word. This author's syncretism was obvious, but in many cases, it is harder to spot. Today, Caryl's work is to warn false thinking is now in the chruch: in their books, taught at their workshops, and infiltrating their pulpits. Over and over, she emphasizes that followers of the Way, the Truth, the Life must know their Book (so unique from any writings of other so-called sages) and their God lest they be deceived by that old serpent, who is impartial, deceiving East and West both. 

A depiction of a H!ndu deity
I have often heard that post-moderns think of God as an impersonal force, but I had an "aha moment" while listening to an interview with Caryl, when she said that the B!blical God is relational, while the typical Eastern view of god is more mystical. God is relational and has created a world with human relationships, such as father-child, friend-friend, or employer-employee, that help us to understand how to relate to Him. When a person learns that the true God is to him like a father, a friend or a master, he instantly has a general understanding of the relationship he is to have with God. 

When people begin to use mystical, non-relational practices in their worship, this should warn us about the extra-B!blical source of their ideas. (Caryl defines mysticism as "not communicating... getting into a euphoric feeling" and disconnecting from the world around you). For example, often empty, repetitive chanting is used in religious worship, but to which father, friend or boss would you ever speak in repetitive chants? Did Adam and Eve simply repeat His name and burn candles around Him when He came to visit in the garden, or did they have real conversations, a real exchange of important information, a real personal relationship with Him? Running our theology (which should be firmly grounded particularly in the doctrinal passages of God's Word) through the historical passages offers us a system of checks and balances, to see if our theological constructs are still fitting the big story of the Scripture. The doctrinal passages teach us that God wants a relationship with mankind, and the narratives show us what it looks like when God relates to humans.

Keeping close to His Word keeps us from turning Him into a mystical God, an impersonal force that encourages us to live by our own power and according to our fluctuating emotions. In Proverbs 1:23 God says,
"I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you."
Charles Clough explains that the poetic Hebrew parallelism in this verse indicates that the pouring out of God's spirit is not a mystical experience, because it involves the transfer of words; it is communication. The true God is mysterious, in that we cannot fully comprehend Him, but He is not mystical in an Eastern sense. The chruch is full of people speaking of experiences and emotion today, but the true outpouring out of His Spirit will never take place in a way that does not align with the Word He has already given us. His Word is the only reliable measuring stick by which to gauge our experiences and impulses. We must know the Word, personally, lest in our desire for experiences, we welcome a different spirit altogether. 

South Asian snake charmer
Today, the West looks to the East, seeking enlightenment through mystical experiences which are as old as the Snake himself. The East looks to the West, seeking a better life but finds, too often, the same soul bondage repackaged.  

As East and West cast their eyes toward each other, may they see the One who stands on Israeli soil,
at the crossroads of civilization,
at the place where East and West meet.

The One who suffered the snake bite, but rose victorious over it.
The One who ascended and promised to return one day and reign physically, visibly, personally from Jer'usalem, forever crushing the serpent's head. He is the Truth-telling Spirit. He is the Living Word. May there be many who catch a glimpse of Him, and "come from the east and the west...and sit down in the kingdom of God."

"But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Chr!st. For if one comes and preaches another J'esus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different g0spel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully...."
 —Paul to the Corinthians
"When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.'"
 —Luke, recording Paul's experience in Athens 

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
 —J'esus, as recorded by Matthew

...“Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.... O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”
 —J'esus, as recorded by Luke

April 18, 2015

a supper invitation

I started a new job recently, as food services manager. I take care of menu planning, food purchasing and meal preparation. That is, for me and my husband, and sometimes for guests. As a single, I cooked, but more sporadically, or in bulk (I was the college kid eating homemade chicken and rice casserole four days in a row). Before I was married, if I preferred to spend the evening writing rather than cooking, I could do that. But my work is now to please my husband, and regular meals please him more than regular blog posts. (Imagine that!) So, I cook regularly.

I've enjoyed the past few months of finding recipe blogs, testing menus on my husband or friends, and when we find something we like, trying to repeat the performance again a few weeks later. I still wouldn't list cooking as my favourite activity (may God bless all of you who do...actually, I love supper invitations...) but I do enjoy in preparing colourful, healthy meals, and I think it is important to find joy in things we must do every day.

As the focus of my life has shifted, I'm understanding a bit better why my wife and mom friends talk about food and recipes so often. It's the stuff of their lives, especially if they're feeding big families. I still don't aim to be a woman who talks about kitchen-related topics every time she sees her friends, but they're entering my vocabulary more. As are food trend words. I'm finding more recipes that call for "free-range eggs" instead of any old eggs, or "organic rice flour" instead of run-of-the-mill flour. Salt is sea and pepper is fresh-cracked. I'm running into the various eating trends more often, and since we live in a place where organic produce is readily available, I'm finding myself lingering undecidedly between the regular mushrooms and the (two or three times as expensive) organic mushrooms at the store. Being a menu planner means making lots of little decisions which cumulatively have a big impact.

As we lay the foundations of food in our home,  I'm thinking about what healthy and balanced eating looks like, and running ideas past my husband. But more than subscribing to a certain plan or diet, my main concern as food manager in our home, is that my theology of food and eating be properly oriented. Food is a common distraction, and a common idol of the human heart. We eat too much or too little, care about our health too much or too little. Our relationship to our food is often an indicator of our relationship to God and His Word.  

When I graduated from high school twelve years ago, virtually the only "food preferences" I knew of were related to health problems (such as allergies, diabetes) and vegetarianism. I recall working as a camp counsellor and bringing the EpiPen to the supper table in case my camper came into contact with sesame seeds, or perhaps having to encourage a picky child to eat what was put in front of her. But that world of eating seemed kind of simple, now that I look back on it. I can only imagine children coming to camp now with a list of food preferences longer than their arm, and having a cabin full of kids with wildly different diets and trying to please them all. Or, perhaps kids don't go to camp anymore, for fear that they may eat (and perhaps enjoy?) hot dogs, marshmallows, pop or white bread.

It seems North Americans are losing their balance in the area of food. I can see how easily this happens, due to genuine health concerns (I rarely touch hot dogs, marshmallows, or pop, either), but in all things we need balance. I haven't heard much about food trends or extreme diets in Europe yet, which makes me think it that the trends that come to mind are more of a North American phenomenon. (That, and having more credit cards than you have children and pets. North America isn't famous for its moderation.)

A good friend read my mind in February and posted some of her concerns about believers choosing their diets in more and more extreme ways. She referenced 1 Timothy 4:1-6 and then listed the three points below.
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Chr!st J'esus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed." (1 Timothy 4:1-6)
My friend wrote,
  1. "If food is pulling me away from fellowship with other believers because what's served at the potluck won't be _______ ...
  2. "If I'm teaching our children to be disrespectful or ungrateful because our family doesn't eat _______....
  3. "If I am consumed by fear over what will happen if we ingest ________....
"...then maybe I need to reconsider my heart's worship. Be thankful. And even be willing to 'point these things out to the brothers and sisters, [so that I] will be a good minister of Chr!st Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed'. [I Timothy 4:6]"
Believers often follow eating trends believing that they stem from a godly desire to steward their bodies well. But when food is more important than fellowship or gratefulness, or when it fills one with earthly fears, is not godly. Even if the food does great things for one's gut, weight, skin or overall health.

I saw how easily food fear could be more important to me than the fear of God when I lived in Asia. The local newspaper proclaimed that the chicken sold in our city was so full of antibiotics, that people who commonly eat chicken could become immune to antibiotics a doctor might later prescribe to them. I heard that the chiles and mangoes were rejected for export to developed nations due to the chemicals being used on them, and the watermelons were being injected with sweeteners by the producers. The very choices I thought were good for me (avoiding the yummy fried snacks aisle, heading for the vegetable department) were not much good for me, either. Sometimes my heart grumbled at this, but I had to decide: would matters of food keep me from fellowship, gratefulness, and trust in God? 

When we adhere to very particular diets (for non-medical reasons), it limits our ability to cross cultural divides and take spiritual food to the spiritually hungriest places. The very places in the world that are darkest and neediest are often the places where there will be no organic produce and no health food stores selling our favourite supplements. Even in Western contexts, food preferences or concerns may stop us from showing hospitality to and receiving hospitality from neighbours of differing cultures and faith. Will our menu stop us from m!ssions?

Acts 10 tells the account of how Peter was headed out to obey his Master's "go make disciples" command, and still following his Old Testament eating practices. He had a vision, where God showed him "all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air" and told him to rise, kill and eat. Peter refused, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean!" and God told him, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." In the Old Testament, God was calling His Israelite people out of pagan nations, and had them live according to particular food laws. But it is significant that just as the good news was breaking the Jewish barriers and heading out in to the Gentile world like never before, God dropped the food restrictions. The chruch had a new freedom to eat all things, and this would greatly enhance their ability to go make disciples.

To allow our food preferences to slow us from going out with spiritual food is not Sciptural. Furthermore, the forbidding of certain foods a sign of false religion (see I Timothy 4 again). While most of the world is captive to food laws, to their false (or in the case of the Jews, incomplete) religions, we are free.
  • Jews follow the distinct "kosher" diet laid out in the Torah.
  • Muslims' meat must be slaughtered in a particular way, and pork is not allowed.
  • Many Hindus are lactovegetarians (no meat or eggs), and a few avoid all varieties of garlic and onions.
  • Jains are not only lactovegetarians, but they often don't eat root vegetables (including carrots, potatoes), garlic or onions either. During fasting periods other foods are also restricted. 
  • Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons represent a few of the sects within the broad title of Christianity that have self-imposed dietary restrictions.
...and I'm sure the list goes on. That's them, but we are free to be "all things to all men"! We are free to eat pork with our German friends, or abstain from it with our Iranian friends. We are free to serve garlic toast to our American friends and then abstain from garlic to accommodate our Jain friends. We don't need special infrastructure (such as a halal butcher) to be able to settle in a new location. He lifted dietary restrictions in part so that we could go into all the world with greater ease.

Other than not eating food offered to idols, or general principles of stewarding our bodies well, we have only one dietary restriction given to the chruch in the epistles. It is not about the food or the body (which perish), but about people and their souls (whom He wills not to perish). Romans 14-15 teaches that we are to eat in a way that promotes love and unity, not in a way that causes others to stumble. "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.

Godliness will produce a God- and others-centred balance in a world that is full of extremes. It helps to have godly, balanced people with eternal mindsets as our role models. Paul wrote to the Philippians:
"...keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Chr!st. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there...[who] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."
Our God-given food freedom, so unique among the religions of the world, opens doors to nourish others on the truth of faith. If Peter could eat ham with Gentile friends, we too can eat things with others that we would not choose to eat on our own. What God has cleansed, we must not call common. The way we make our everyday food decisions can have a big impact—for the Kingdom!

We are not menu advisers for the marriage supper of the Lamb(I have a feeling we'll be eating whatever is served)—our task is as messengers. We are to invite more guests, and we will eat, together, forever. "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."

"My food is to do the will of him
who sent me and to finish his work."

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Chr!st in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
—Paul to the Romans

"'Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.' (In saying this, J'esus declared all foods clean.) He went on: What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come...and defile a person.'"

"For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
Paul, to Timothy  

"The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense."

"Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
Paul to the Colossians

March 30, 2015

you look fat today

Not long ago, Eastern friends invited us for an informal supper on a weeknight. I had a small floral plate of theirs in my cupboard, which they'd forgotten at our place. Asia taught me not to return plates empty, so before our visit, I made a simple chocolate dessert to share. My husband tasted it at lunchtime and confirmed its deliciousness. I confidently packed both the sweets and the plate to take to our hosts.

That evening, we folded our limbs to fit into their small dining area, knees hitting table legs, and partook of oily eggplant and meat kebabs, served with rice and flat bread. The host had done the cooking because his wife was under the weather, and we showered him with praise for the tasty entree.

When it was time for dessert, my chocolate squares were placed on the table with the hostesses' other sweets. The man of the house sunk a thick finger into the corner of a square, and tasted my creation. Then, indicating his wife's berry cake, he declared to my husband, "Maybe once you have been married as long as I have, your wife will know how to make nice desserts like my wife makes, not this stuff." 

Inside, I grumbled, and was ready to leave.
Why do we hang out with people who insult me,
or waste a dessert that we like on people who don't like it?

A few days later, I was walking home in the evening with a fellow North American. We crossed a main bridge into the city centre and she asked, "What's for supper?" I should have known that it wasn't a good sign when my description of the food I had prepared (modifying it slightly to suit her allergies) was met with dead silence. As mealtime approached, she informed us that she had had a late lunch, and that she is the world's pickiest eater. 

For the next hour and a half, she sought to prove that true. She skillfully repositioned the food on her plate at least fifty times, and nibbled a grain of rice here or a piece of turkey there...but injested virtually nothing except bread, butter and coffee. Even the orange slices served as a side dish were nearly untouched. She didn't like the food, that was obvious. But she seemed pleased to spend the evening telling us about her background, interests, and accomplishments. Apparently learning to eat what she is served is not among those accomplishments.

Inside, I grumbled, and was ready for her to leave.
Why do we host self-absorbed picky eaters,
and why does she have to stay so late? 

It's one thing to write peppy posts about practicing hospitality, and it is quite another to live out hospitality with a forgiving and loving spirit. Our local Body is studying 1 Peter, and this week I came across Peter's admonition: "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling". The text was so obvious; I had to repent of grumbling about hosting or being hosted by people who aren't particularly easy to have around.  

Hospitality seems a strange topic for Peter to broach in an epistle that this focused on believers suffering with hope. Doesn't he have bigger fish to fry, like how to handle persecution or death threats? But in daily life, suffering comes most often in these little forms: bad manners, sarcastic remarks, and small insults that leave us with a bad taste in our mouths. Small irritations easily drive division between us and others, when we respond in the flesh. But when we respond in the Spirit, these mini-suffering moments train us to respond well to the big suffering moments. Through them we have the opportunity to advance spiritually in ways that we would never had developed had everyone been extraordinarily complimentary, accommodating and generous to us at all times.  

When we face circumstances tempt us to grumble, Peter shows us that we have the opportunity to look at the big picture: 
  • in the past, He patiently suffered for you, not returning insult for insult;
  • in the future, He's coming for you, and will settle you in your eternal home;
  • right now, "the end of all things is at hand"... (4:7).
The little things we grumble about, that keep us from a hospitable spirit, are temporary. Peter refers to our whole lives as "the time of your stay here", because this pilgrimage on earth shouldn't be wasted "revil[ing] in return" but instead, turning the other cheek.

The title of this post is a small insult, and direct quotation, from a friend in Asia. One day not long after we had met, she came by for a visit. After a short greeting, she announced, "You look fat today!" I was insulted, and I didn't know how to respond. But clearly her comment wasn't inappropriate in her culture, because she was a kind-hearted woman and didn't mean to hurt me. I had to overlook the slight, knowing she meant well, and perhaps throw out that horizontally-striped T-shirt. But I have never managed to throw her words from my memory!

These little slights are the stuff of life with one another, and especially of cross-cultural life with one another. Peter's first letter is full of lots of little gems about how to act toward "one another", likely because God knew that in suffering situations we often take out our frustrations on one another. The exact word pair "one another" is mentioned seven times in my English translation of 1 Peter:
  • "love one another fervently with a pure heart,"
  • "be of one mind, having compassion for one another;
    love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous...."
  • "above all things have fervent love for one another,
    for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.'"
  • "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling."
  • "minister [your gifts] to one another"
  • "be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility"
  • "Greet one another"
If you're sensitive and selfish like I am, your response when slighted is often to subtly distance yourself from the people who insult you, not to be hospitable to them. Or to grumble or gossip about them, not to have compassion and fervent love for them. We need His admonition, "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling."

Lately I'm learning that when I look at a perceived insult with an attitude of humility, letting love tenderize the hurt, usually there is something practical to learn from the insult. Such as:
  • Central Asians aren't used to peanut butter and chocolate no-bake squares, and might not like them. To serve them better, try something using flavours and ingredients they are more accustomed to.
  • Don't try exotic wild rice salads on Americans you don't know very well; standard Sloppy Joes with a white bread option might be better.
  • Watch how much you eat, and keep reasonably fit.
Furthermore, usually an insult only smarts because we recognize a kernel of truth in the words, and we are too proud to admit it. If someone insults us in a way that is completely untrue, we get over it sooner, because we realize that it was just a product of their fantasy. But these situations made me more aware of true weaknesses of mine, which is never a pleasant experience. Now that I think about it,
  • I had thrown a simple dessert together, just to have something to take along. I could plan the time to make nicer desserts or desserts better suited to the recipients. I have a tendency to choose the lazy way out, especially if I think no one else will notice the difference.
  • I had made the mistake of trying a new dish on a new person, and it honestly didn't taste super good, even to us. I can complain about her picky eating, or I can grow in being a selfless hostess by feeding people things that are less unusual. Again, sometimes I'm lazy or selfish, just not wanting to make another trip to the grocery store, or wanting to make something I think is good, no matter if my guests will enjoy it.
  • I was "looking fat" because I had been over-eating (that's called gluttony, folks), and needed to lose some weight and exercise more regularly. It just hurt to have someone acknowledge it so openly, but I knew it was true.
I don't say these things to berate or be unreasonable with myself, but to say that God is mercifully using these remarks to remind me of sin He had already shown me, in my heart.

What could have been an insult that brings division, when it is...
covered in love ("love always hopes" that they didn't mean to hurt me),
received with humility (recognizing that I too am sinful), and
followed with no grumbling (recognizing that this slight is valuable to me, as a teachable moment) a catalyst for growth in my life, because I'm able to extract the truth from careless words and even be thankful for the person who exposed that truth to me.

In the end, those unfiltered thoughts and brutally honest assessments are swifter teachers than ten friends who flatter me for years, and don't tell me where I could improve. In the end, hurts can often help. But even when I can't see any good or truth in hard words, "the end of all things is at hand", the command is still there: let's be hospitable to one another without grumbling.

March 23, 2015

online dating for believers

My husband and I met in 2013, and we were married in 2014. If you've followed my blog for a while, you've probably seen little bits of our story. There was the first post where I told you he existed, and thoughts on letting romance remain a bit mysterious and on that weird transition from being single to being married. More recently there was a post about how we planned a faith-based wedding.

My husband and I met online in 2013, and we were married in 2014. How else would a Canadian living in Asia meet an American living in Europe? We had never lived in the same countries, let alone the same cities. We had no mutual friends. Yet, we had so much in common.

We've gotten quite a few questions from others about dating online or dating long distance. Our parents were a bit surprised that we met online, but most people of our generation are more familiar with the concept. There are quite a few good articles online about the pros and cons of online dating as a believer, but lately a few people have asked me about our experience again, which made me want to distill a few things we learned into a blog post that I can share with them, and that will hopefully benefit a few others, too.

Some of this is subjective, some is His Truth. Sift, and see if you find something useful. Please note that if you are married to someone you met online, and didn't handle your relationship the way I describe below, please don't take this article as condemning of your story. Every story looks different!

I divided these thoughts (which my husband has looked over, too) into three sections:
  1. Don't try online dating unless...
  2. If you try online dating, do....
  3.  If you start talking to one person in particular regularly, do...
This article does not attempt to cover godly dating in general, though I think that the pursuit of purity, honesty, godly gender roles, and more can (and should) all be pursued in a relationship that starts online. This is a response to people who say things like "Do you have any advice you could give me about online dating?" Or "What kinds of questions should I ask the person I met online?"

Be warned, this whole article is rather pragmatic and might be boring! I'm not going to tell you to follow your heart, not even once! Here we go!

try online dating unless:

  1. can do so "in faith" (Rom. 14:23). Don't do something that goes against your conscience or gets between you and God. Not everyone is meant to be married, and not everyone is meant to try online dating. Pray about it and be at peace about it.
  2.'re willing to tell others you are doing so. The whole online world can be very secretive. I've heard of people who have dated in a vacuum, with clandestine dates or trips to see each other, and then announced to their families that they've met the person they want to marry, without others having any opportunity to know their partner. This seems to happen especially as people get older, and are feeling a bit wary of letting people know that they have "yet another boyfriend" unless they're "sure." I'm not suggesting that everyone should know, but dating secretly is dangerous, no matter what age you are. Tell someone that you trust that you are making an online dating profile, and ask them to keep tabs on you.
    Another reason it is good to tell someone you're trying online dating is because it can be a big time-waster, and someone else can ask you if you're stewarding your time well. (My husband suggests just trying a two-week or one-month subscription at a time, then taking a break, rather than constantly using a dating website.)
  3. could realistically see yourself getting married within a year or two. Romance is a journey toward a definite destination, of marriage. If you've just locked into a three-year job on-site Uzbekistan, it's probably not the best time to make an online dating profile and start extended conversations about your emotions with a girl living in Kansas. It's not fair to you or to that person.
  4. are able to spend the time and money it takes to get to know someone. It's terribly practical to say this, but if you are up to your ears in debt and toying with dating a guy who lives even a $500 trip away, it might not be wise. In our case, cost was an extreme factormy future husband had to pay for a flight from Europe to Asia to meet me, and meeting each others' families before we got engaged and then getting to and from our wedding location were costly endeavors, too. But we had an early conversation about the distances and cost, and agreed that assuming all else went well, money would not be an obstacle to pursuing this relationship.
  5. are willing to move, whether that's across town or to another country, if things get serious. Often online dating relationship are long distance or at least a little way apart. Don't start talking to someone in Texas or India if you couldn't see yourself potentially visiting and later moving there if the relationship got serious. Don't assume that they will move to where you are, until that is discussed. Also, bear in mind that if you are dating someone of a different nationality, things like paperwork can be rather complicated and expensive.
  6. have never spent time with datable singles in real life. This is more just a personal opinion, but for example, I don't think it makes sense to start looking for dates online if you're 19 or 20. Try meeting people in more natural settings like at your local church, camp or city. To me, online dating seems like a great option for people who feel they've exhausted their natural, local connections and want to be married.

If you try online dating, do:

  1. ...try a genuinely Christian-run site first. The two that I've heard the most about are ChristianCafe (medium-sized) and MarryWell (quite small, but that's where we met!). Genuinely Christian-owned sites ask questions that are more relevant to your world (such as denomination, testimony, spiritual gifts) and are more likely to attract like-minds.
  2. ...describe yourself in a genuine way. This is cliché enough; we all know that the internet is the perfect place to pretend to be someone you're not. Don't be one of those people. In looking around dating websites, sometimes I have seen profiles of people I knew in person, and it has always been pleasant for me to see that they are true to who they are in real life.
  3. ...decide what your non-negotiables are in advance, within reason. 
    1. Don't even start conversations with people who are obviously nowhere near compatible with you. This is essential. Of course, the most important thing to have in common is that you both know and love the Lord, but there are a lot of secondary things that make a big difference. One of the benefits of online dating is seeing a synopsis of a person in written form before spending months investing emotionally in that person, only to find out that you disagree on some important topics. Often from reading a person's profile, you can learn what really is important to them, whether it is having 14 children and living on a ranch, attending a church that uses a particular Bible version, or living in China and teaching English. If you can't see yourself agreeing to their chosen lifestyle, move right along.
      Note: one friend commented to me that a lot of her thirty-something single friends are  marrying divorcees they've met online, but I did not consider even starting conversations with divorcees on dating websites because I still hold this view (however hard that is in our broken world).
    2. Also, remember that it's OK to have personal preferences that aren't particularly spiritual. God has made us with individual interests and tastes, and it's OK to admit that you're not attracted to certain types of people, however godly they may be. Ask God to show you if your preferences are not of Him.

If you start talking to one person in particular regularly, do:

  1. ...develop a genuine friendship before you dive into a romance. Figure out if this is someone you can genuinely enjoy and agree with as a person, sans fireworks. This can be especially difficult, when you meet online and you know that, obviously, you're both looking for someone to date. But when you don't know who a person really is, and you dive immediately into a romantic relationship, reality is you aren't seeing them in "normal mode".
    My husband was a great leader in developing a good friendship foundation to our relationship. We had a small talk about expectations near the beginning, but after that we spent most of the first three months writing or talking about theology, family, daily life and routines, history, travel, goals, and ministry. We memorized Scripture together and learned that we had tonnes in common. But we didn't talk about "us" much, as in, talk about our feelings for each other. Those three months gave us a real idea of what the other person's life and character was. After those months, my husband told me he wanted to come to Asia to meet me in person, "to see if there were any obstacles to pursing marriage." (At which point I asked him, "So, are we dating?" Ha ha!)
  2. ...hold the relationships loosely, especially before the first in-person meeting, and meet each other relatively soon. It happens often that people who thought they had something great going on, long distance, realize in person that it is not what they thought, and one or both have to end the relationship. (On the other hand, it is often the other way too!) If you can't meet particularly soon, because of cost or distance, video calls can make a big difference. But meeting in person is pretty essential. (And when you do meet, do so with others' knowledge and with others around - see #4).
  3. ...ask for and/or offer references, especially if there will be some delay before you can meet in person. In our case, after we had been communicating for a few months, we gave each other contact info for people who knew us in different settings (family, church, small group). The emails or calls were slightly awkward, but we were glad we did that, because those other voices rounded out what we were learning about each other directly. If the person you're talking to has nothing to hide, they shouldn't be afraid to give some references.
  4. ...involve other people as much as possible. The tendency with all dating is to spend time most of your time alone together instead of in groups, and with online or long distance dating it can be especially this way. For first meetings, it isn't wise that you would meet up with a stranger of the opposite sex without someone knowing what is going on or even being present, simply for safety reasons.
    But also throughout your relationship, keep others involved. My husband met with my good friend's parents when he was visiting in their area (before having met me), so that they could see what they thought of him. (They sent me five star reviews!) We did group Skypes with friends, roommates, or family, and we would stay at each others' friends' houses during our visits. My husband also emailed and Skyped with my parents on his own, and I did the same with his parents. My parents were passing through his parents' home state and they visited for a few days while we were still in Europe/Asia.
  5. normal life things together, when you meet up. We did some sanding, painting and drilling, read the Good Book together, and made supper for friends various times. Invite friends to go along with you on outings.When you're long distance, you have lots of time to talk "one on one" over the phone; when you're together being with others is important.
  6. ...ask lots of questions. We used this book of questions, which asked a lot of questions that are often asked in premarital counselling. We each bought a copy and used it fairly frequently to push our conversation to important topics.

    Before things get too serious, ask about views and practices about things like: alcohol, debt/money,  homosexuality, and pornography/sexuality. Watch for red flags in their responses, and ask a wiser, older believer how to handle these conversations if you're not sure. Do not assume that just because you're both Christians, you don't need to ask about these topics.

    One thing that often happens on online dating sites is that believers of very different theological backgrounds meet. In our case, we had fairly similar backgrounds, but some of our very first questions for each other were of a theological nature, because the way we view God determines how we view everything else. We didn't do it argumentatively, but constructively, and it led to good conversation and good study for both of us. It is so essential to be able to agree on these faith foundations, so that you can be effective in life and ministry together, whether this means happily attending the same fellowship, or raising your children with consistent teaching and direction.

    Below are a few questions, just as an example:
    • How is a person saved from the punishment for their sin (justified)?
    • How does a person "stay saved"/do you believe in eternal security? Why or why not?
    • How can a person have assurance of salvation? (For example, how would you answer someone who wonders if they are truly saved?)
    • How does God speak to mankind today? What do you think about the "sign gifts" (tongues, miracles, healings, prophecy)? Do you believe they are still in use in the church today, and if so, do you practice any of them?
    • What are your persuasions about creation? 
    • What are your persuasions about end times?
    • Would you use any of these words to describe your views: Reformed? Covenant? Calvinist? Dispensational? Describe what you mean when you use those words.
    • What kinds of churches have you attended, and at which do you feel most at home?

One of the greatest powers of online dating is that it broadens the playing field, allowing people who desire marriage to connect with like-minded people that they would never have otherwise met. When done intentionally and prayerfully, online dating can lead to godly marriages, just like in-person dating! I hope the points above will be helpful as you think through the options that exist, if you desire godly marriage.

When I was in middle school, a teacher quoted us a paraphrase of this quotation, "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." That concept stuck with me, of watching for a man who was looking in the same direction as me, a man who loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him in a similar way.

My husband and I are more alike than most couples, likely, in our preferences, interests, lifestyle, family background, etc. (I could see this from the first time I read his profile, online—and actually, he was the only person I ever talked to through a dating site) and our dating relationship was rather smooth. In our first meeting and also in marriage we have had very few surprises about one another, and I think this is because we communicated honestly and often  beforehand, we had known the Lord for quite a few years, and we did not come from complicated backgrounds. We are not the proverbial "opposites attract" couple.

However, what gives us the most joy is loving and serving God together.
I could have found a man who enjoyed TexMex and Thai, travel and internationalism, books and study, just like me (and I did). But all this would have been empty if he didn't love the Lord with his heart, soul, mind and strength. And all this could have been tarnished if we hadn't followed wisdom principles in dating. We are thankful for this gift of grace—of investing this short life in eternity, with a like-minded soul—and thankful for online dating, the tool God used to make it happen.

March 18, 2015

sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever. You wouldn't be the first to do it, and you wouldn't be the last. You're over eighteen, and there's no law against it. Once you've made up your mind, no one can really stop you. So that's why I say,

"Sure, you can marry an unbeliever."

But first, stand in the lobby with me and study the deep creases in this man's face, the grooves his hand plows into his grey hair. Hear his low baritone say the phrase I've never forgotten: "If I could do it again, I'd marry a woman who loves the Lord." Watch the weight of his distant wife and wayward children burden his shoulders, like a grey boulder that threatens to break him.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But before you do, spend a day wearing yellow rubber gloves with the sixty-something lady who is cleaning houses to pay the rent. Rub your fingers through other people's dirt and remember that at the age when most people are thinking about retirement, she's signing divorce papers and supporting herself. She signs the papers unwillingly, though he made her life miserable for the last thirty years, because she still believes it's wrong to divorce the man to whom she made a covenant before God.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But prior to your signature on that contract, let's spend a week in the home of the man who "led his wife to the Lord" before marriage, to please the parents or the pastor. She submits to his way of running the home and joins him at chruch; she might even read a valuable Story or two to the kids each day. He would have no reason to leave her; she's a nice lady. But watch how the faith is his, not hers. Watch him spend his entire life with this tension: drawing near to God always feels like it draws him farther from his spouse, because his spouse is invested in the earth, and his soul is invested in the eternal.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But let's make one more stop, and have a hot cup of rooibos with my friend, who says that "spiritual topics are not a topic" between her and her husband. Attend the prayer meeting she hosts; note that her husband is holed away upstairs. Kneel with her as she prays desperately for her sons and daughter that they wouldn't follow their father's footsteps, though the first one has gone that way already. Hide her words in your heart, "I have wanted to leave him so many times." Ask what kept her in her difficult marriage to an unbeliever: "Every time I wanted to leave, the Word told me not to."

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

I tremble to think how much power God has bestowed on you, in giving you a will, that creature form of the Creator's omnipotence.

Did you hear the unfinished sentence in the Garden, one of the few in Scripture: "'Behold, the man...might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'—" and hear the grief in the Creator's tone?

Did you hear His analysis of the events at Babel, " nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them"? He is the first to acknowledge the power of a man made in God's image, the amazing power of choice.

God can override that creature-choice, for man's own protection, and often He does. After all, we are mini-kings, but He is the ultimate King. In the Garden, His response to man's waywardness was this: "So He drove the man out..." At Babel: "So the Lord scattered them abroad from there...and they stopped building the city." But He doesn't promise to override the principle of sowing and reaping, and the rebellious "I will..."'s in the Garden and at Babel still bore bitter fruit (paradise lost, families scattered) that we taste even today.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But I petition
and I plead
and I pray
that you would take that "I will"
and make it an "I won't".

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked;
for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
For the one who sows to his own flesh
will from the flesh reap corruption,
but the one who sows to the Spirit
will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

If a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.

Photos in this post are from here.

March 12, 2015 us part

Rain slid down the windshield into the black night. Yellow, red and white glow crept through the foggy glass and into the darkness of the vehicle. The traffic stopped and started, and we splashed through monsoon puddles, back to our flat. Roommate #1 and I had just dropped Roommate #2 and her boyfriend off at a hotel where they would be spending the night together. It wasn't something I did every day; it wasn't something I did without grief.

Roommate #2 and I both had long-distance boyfriends. Sometimes we'd exchange news about them over supper, and we met each others' boyfriends when they came to town. In the evenings we'd say good night and hole ourselves up in our rooms, each to talk to our guy, long distance.  

But I felt a little shy sometimes, about the marked difference in our relationships. I knew she would think us prudish. When my boyfriend came to visit, he stayed with my friends and we had a curfew. I didn't have any naughty pictures of him on my phone. On the weekend of our engagement party, while we were singing songs about J'esus and "spending time in groups", she was enjoying a long weekend at the beach with her boyfriend.  

I didn't question why we needed our standards to be so high; we were both convinced that purity would pay off. But it felt like we came from different relationships paradigms and I wondered: How do I explain that to her? Her boyfriend is a pleasant, smart, attractive guy. She's having fun. She's not getting pregnant. Her parents are OK with it. How could I build a case for the slow, intentional and seemingly boring path of wisdom?

I questioned Roommate #1, a few nights after the hotel drop-off, with an intensity uncharacteristic for me. The two of us were out for dinner, eating too many entrées because the server got our order wrong.

"Do you think it's right, what she's doing, sleeping with her boyfriend?"

She replied, "Well, each person can do what works for them..."

I didn't let her go. "I won't tell her what you're telling me. I just want to know, do you think it's morally wrong to have sex with someone you're not married to?"

When her answer came, it was solemn. "I do think it's wrong." She said it with a seriousness that knew she was probably condemning 90% of her coworkers, 90% of her friends, maybe even of herself, in the past. But she said it with a raw genuineness for which I admired her. Deep down, she knew there was something wrong with their behaviour.

She used to tease me, sometimes:
"Why don't you wear more sleeveless tops [in our Asian context]?"
"Your poor boyfriend; you should let him get farther with you."
"Next time you Skype with your boyfriend, you should show him that new bathrobe..."

But I knew that beneath her teasing, she appreciated something about my standards, something so far-removed from her typical expectation of a loose Westerner. Something set apart from the darkness she saw in her own supposedly conservative culture. Something that even her own conscience admitted was better.

Sometimes I think that the Father had me fall in love in Asia so that my female friends there could watch it happen. 

At my bridal shower, those same female friends gathered and I was asked to share our love story, and related Truths. I told funny stories of childhood crushes and we had a good laugh. But then I told them how that I knew that my fiancé's love was real, based on the Word—
“Love always trusts” - He tells me the truth, always. This doesn’t mean that we say everything we think, but we tell the truth.

“Love is patient” -  He was wise in the way that he approached our conversations. He made sure that we were friends for quite a while before making any romantic insinuations.

“Love does not boast” - He did not give me a list of things he was good at; I slowly learned those things about him. 
“Love is not easily angered” - He had never been short-tempered with me, and is not known for being angry with other people, either.
“Love protects” - He protected me by limiting physical affection before marriage, and even limited emotional affection by not saying “I love you” until he was ready to start pricing engagement rings.
 As I told these tests of true love, Roommate #2 was there, and again, I felt a bit small. Like, what could my story mean to her? 

I'm boring; she's having fun. 

The fun is over for her now; the boyfriend had his fill and is gone. I heard that when he broke up with her, she was so unwell that she fainted at work, and she had to travel home to spend time with her family while she recovered. By her own admission, she is still hurting, and she should be: she was his, and he was hers—but not fully.

The joy continues for me now; my husband is with me every morning. He is still trustworthy, still patient, still humble, still gentle, and still chivalrous. And, most notably, he's still here. Those boring character traits that I saw as his friend, girlfriend and fiancée continue to evidence themselves to me every day that I spend as his wife. As Ann Voskamp says, "The real romantics are the boring ones — they let another heart bore a hole deep into theirs."

Here it is: my case for the seemingly boring path of wisdom. Perhaps now my story would mean something to her.

There is a design blogger that I follow for her creative, bright imagery. Last year when she broke up with her boyfriend after six years together, she told all her followers about her grief. Recently a follow-up post talked about things she does to make herself feel OK about being home alone, like burning candles and cooking good meals for herself. It is obvious that the pain is still heavy, almost one year later.

The world can tell you all their
free love
free sex
stuff, and you can follow it, if you will.

Or you can submit your seen body to living by faith in what is unseen.

I stood in a mini Body Worlds exhibit in January and saw dead, unclothed bodies on display. The sight was pitiful. My mind immediately turned to the fragility of our lives. How can we allow bodies (which become as shriveled as crunchy autumn leaves) to orient our lives? How do we allow our bodies to convince our spirits that God doesn't know best? How can we give in to temporary pleasure over peaceful, lasting joy? We are but a vapor, "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." When I saw the worthlessness of our bodies after 70 or 80 years, I thought: who are we to question His eternal Wisdom?

Singleness is hard in some ways, delightful in others. Marriage is a different kind of hard and delightful. But disobedience to divine design, well, even the world declares how terribly painful it is. Yes, they will sell you the gear and tell you you have the right—but when they are genuine, they'll tell you that they are deeply damaged by that cycle of bonding and breaking up. By living for fleeting pleasures. Just ask Roommate #2. Just ask Roommate #1. Just ask Bri.

I have a friend who has a new boyfriend, and I love romance, so I ask about him often. I can tell she genuinely likes him, but the stories she tells are awfully boring:

"I'm meeting his family."
"He's meeting my family."
"For Valentine's Day we read the B!ble over the phone together."
"We're going to go to a conference together."

What? No vacations to the Turkish seashore? No plans to move in together? No wild flings? Her stories are so boring that I'm happy for her—there is such peace in her words and her heart. I think she's got the real thing. Sparks will come and go, but wise, true love builds a solid foundation.

My husband's married friend told me something similar, "The beginning of our dating season was not very romantic. There was a lot of talk about theology and what kind of chruches we attended and if we could find common ground." But when I see how like-minded and joyful they are now, eight years later, it reminds me that it's better to be "boring" on the front end.

Sin always ends in sorrow, though it's temporarily masked as fun. We can shout our stories to this world graciously but boldly, because Wisdom will ultimately prevail. Even the stories the world lives ultimately point back to the truth of the Word. When their homes built on sand are being washed away, your home built on the rock will bear testimony to Wisdom. Be "boring"; be patient. 

I squeeze my husband's hand when he tells our Wednesday group that he is thankful for his wife. The group chuckles in unison; they've heard this before. I tease him, "Is that going to be your thankfulness item every week?" 

I hope so'til death do us part.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming.
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop,
patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
You too, be patient and stand firm,
because the Lord’s coming is near.
The Judge is standing at the door!
...As an example of patience in the face of suffering,
take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.
You have heard of Job’s perseverance
and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
 Good understanding gives favor:
but the way of transgressors is hard.

Photos in this post are from here.